The best Danish pastries I have ever had, I didn’t have in Copenhagen, Vienna or Berlin, but in the United States, in a small Danish enclave called Solvang in California, north of Santa Barbara, in the St. Ynez Valley. Here you’ll find, apart from some great wineries (‘Sideways’ was filmed here), Danish architecture, Danish culture and, of course, many shops and businesses offering Danish wares, among them several bakeries selling Danish pastries – or should I say ‘wienerbrød’, as that what they are called in Denmark (the recipe was brought to Denmark by Austrian bakers). It doesn’t really matter what you call them, as long as you eat them. They are deliciously buttery pieces of heaven!
I had previously made Danish pastries with shop-bought puff pastry, and they were nice, but not quite right. Danish pastries are made with a variant of puff pastry, a yeast-leavened dough, we call ‘Plunderteig’ in Germany. I have not been able to find a translation for ‘Plunderteig’ and noticed that I was not the only one who has been searching for one.
Making the pastry is quite a lengthy process, but definitely worth it.
Anyway, the following recipe is for around 16-18 Danish pastries, so get creative and invite your friends round for coffee.
For the dough:
- 500g plain flour
- 1 square of fresh yeast or the equivalent of dried yeast (check the packaging)
- 40g white sugar
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 50g soft unsalted butter
- 250g milk
- 1 medium egg
- 1 pack (250g) cold unsalted butter
For the filling/decoration:
You can use fresh fruit, tinned fruit, jams, chocolate spreads, nuts, custard – the only limit is your imagination. I used tinned mandarins and apricots, cranberry sauce and a batch of vanilla pudding. You’ll also need some warmed up apricot jam for glazing and a stiff icing sugar/water mix for decorating.
Put the flour in a large bowl and crumble the yeast over it, before adding all the other ingredients apart from the cold butter. Using a hand-held mixer with kneading hooks, mix at first on low and then for about 5 minutes on high until the dough is smooth.
Dust a work surface with flour and knead the dough briefly with your hands and then use a rolling pin (or clean empty bottle) to roll it out and the dough is a rectangle of approx. 25 x 40cm. Cut the butter into slices and lay them on to one half of the dough, leaving a 0.5cm strip free around the edges. Cover with the other half of the dough and make sure you press the edges firmly together.
With your rolling pin roll the dough out again, so it has the same size as before, 25 x 40 cm. Fold the dough towards the middle from the two shorter sides so that the edges touch. This gives you two layers of dough. Then fold one side over the other, so that you have four layers. Cover the dough and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Take the dough out of the fridge, roll it back out to 25 x 40 cm, fold it again so that you end up with 4 layers and pop it back into the fridge for 20 minutes and repeat this one more time.
Now you can finally get on with making Danish pastries! Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 0.5cm and cut out shapes for your creations. Strips, triangles (for croissants!), squares – it’s up to you. I cut out squares and just folded them three different ways. For the apricot pastries I simply folded all four corners towards the middle, and added some vanilla pudding and half an apricot. For the mandarin/vanilla pudding pastries I cut from each corner halfway towards the middle and then folded the dough to form a windmill shape. For the cranberry pastries I cut a triangle into the dough on each side, approx. 05.cm from the edge and then folded first one, then the other one over the first one and topped it with my homemade cranberry sauce, I had left over from Christmas. Brush all pasties with warm apricot jam.
Cover the pastries on the baking tray and leave to rise in a warm place until they are visibly larger.
Pop the baking tray in the pre-heated oven (180C /160C fan/gas 4) and bake for 20 minutes. Leave to cool and decorate with icing (I used a large plastic syringe).
I was really pleased with the result; my homemade Danish pastries were definitely worth the extra effort and I will make them again soon. Maybe with cherries or with pecans!